In honor of National Mentoring Month, we want to highlight our Rice Foster Friends Mentoring Program in Evanston. The Rice Foster Friends Mentoring Program matches residents with long-term mentors who serve as positive adult role models. Mentors help youth find ways to cope with past trauma, provide friendship and stability, and broaden their mentee’s horizon.

Youth participating in the Rice Foster Friends Mentoring Program come from the Chicago metropolitan area or surrounding suburbs and are all residents at the Center. For these foster children, a mentor may be their only adult role model telling them they are worthy of love and kindness. Mentors act as a guide, an advocate, a coach, a friend, and a role model. By fostering this kind of relationship, mentees see their mentor as someone who is a champion for them and their needs, and who can be trusted.

Mentors can encourage new interests and emotional growth at the Center by cooking, playing games and sports, and doing other creative activities. One mentee who could not leave campus often said that the best part of having a mentor was interacting with someone and having new experiences cooking together. Another mentor took her mentee to a rock shop where they bought a worry stone. This not only exposed the mentee to a self-soothing technique, but the mentee also said that she gave the stone to a friend because he had been worried lately. This thoughtful action shows progress in social and emotional understanding. Even a small comment or activity can make a huge difference to mentees. As one mentee said, her mentor “teaches [her] how to love.”

One mentor, Amelia, has been mentoring for almost a year and was recruited from the Great Lakes Naval Base where she works on the medical unit. After learning that her mentee, a 10 year old girl at Rice, who had been through a traumatic past, shared her love for photography, they decided to choose photography as their enrichment project. Amelia taught her mentee all about how a camera works and key techniques for producing quality photographs. Together, they have been embarking on photography adventures in the Evanston community and throughout the Rice Center facility to find interesting subjects to photograph. Both have greatly benefited from their fun experiences together.

A positive relationship between a mentor and mentee establishes mutual trust and respect, maintains regular interaction and consistent support, and makes meeting fun for both people. By focusing on establishing positive relationships and developing life skills, a mentor can help their mentee feel loved and accepted, as well as prepared for and excited about their future.